GOP Lawmakers Delay Vote On UW Budget

Republicans At Odds On Walker Tuition Cut

Wisconsin State Capitol
JeromeG111 (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Republicans who run state government revealed a new fissure over the state budget Tuesday, this one involving Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to cut tuition for in-state students at University of Wisconsin System campuses.

Walker proposed a 5 percent tuition cut in the second year of his budget. The Legislature’s budget committee was scheduled to vote on that plan Tuesday, but the committee’s co-chairs said they’re still at odds.

“We just are not in a position to make a decision on the tuition cut,” said Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills.

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Co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget committee Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette. Shawn Johnson/WPR

Darling said some Republican senators support the tuition cut, while Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said Assembly Republicans oppose it.

“It’s a no-go for us,” Nygren said.

It’s not the first issue in this budget where Republicans have openly disagreed. GOP lawmakers have regularly argued with Walker when it comes to transportation funding, and Walker has threatened to veto any budget that raises the gas tax or the overall property tax burden.

The infighting comes at a time when Republicans have their largest majorities in decades at the state Capitol. In the state Senate, Republicans hold a 20 to 13 seat advantage over Democrats. In the Assembly, Republicans hold 64 to 35 seat edge.

When asked about this latest delay, Nygren seemed to lay the blame on some rank-and-file GOP senators.

“It’s whether or not we allow a few people to railroad the process,” Nygren said.

As part of Walker’s tuition cut proposal, the governor called for increasing state funding to the UW System by $35 million. If lawmakers reject the tuition cut as Assembly Republicans hope to do, it would mean they could use that funding elsewhere in the budget.

Darling said the UW’s budget would not see an overall cut in state funding.

The budget committee rescheduled its debate on the UW System’s budget for Thursday.

The committee did vote on other pieces of Walker’s budget Tuesday. Among the highlights:

  • Republicans passed Walker’s plan to expand drug testing to more recipients of Wisconsin Works, or W-2, a program that aims to find jobs for poor people. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates the latest expansion could result in 264 recipients being referred for drug testing in a year, or about 2 percent of W-2’s overall caseload.
  • GOP lawmakers also approved Walker’s plan to increase higher education grants for students by about 4 percent in the first year of the budget and 2 percent in the second year.
  • On a unanimous vote, Republicans and Democrats on the budget committee rejected Walker’s plan to spend roughly $500,000 per year for a public relations campaign to promote what Walker has referred to as the “success sequence.” Walker said the funding would help the state promote the idea that economic success is more likely if people get married and wait to have kids until they’re 21 years old. Critics argued the proposal was insulting to single mothers and ignored the real causes of poverty.
  • Republicans approved Walker’s plans to consolidate several human resources and information technology jobs based at other state agencies into the state Department of Administration instead. Republicans argued the moves would make government more efficient, while Democrats said it would consolidate power under the governor.

Editor’s Note: This story was last updated at 8:47 p.m. Tuesday, May 23, 2017, with additional committee votes. Wisconsin Public Radio is a service of the University of Wisconsin-Extension.